Elliott Klein Elliott Klein
Posted August 3rd
Natural harmonics are very under-utilized on the guitar in popular music. It’s not strange to hear them with screaming distortion or in a Jeff Beck song, but in your standard folk, country, or singer-songwriter music it’s a rare surprise. Because of that, it’s a fun way to turn some heads and spice up an arrangement as well.
Let’s take a look at some of your options. Say you’re playing a song with the verse progression G - D - C - G. Generally guitarists will strum those chords as it creates the biggest sound a guitar can make. While a big sound is helpful, if you’re in a band with two guitarists or a piano player (or all three), it can become cluttered and cliche.
Fingerpicking often works no matter the band size as a way to stand out in the arrangement while serving a strong rhythmic role. It’s fun to weave melodies into your playing and make the standard chord shapes sing in ways they don’t often do. While being an incredibly useful technique, it’s not particularly surprising. It’s more like a stock “beautiful music” technique.
Using natural harmonics is a fun way to get into higher registers and create atypical sounds. To achieve this sound, what you do is lightly rest the tip of your finger above either the 12th, 7th, or 5th fret, and then pick or pluck the string with your other hand. You can do this on any string, but the key to getting a good sound is a very light touch, and positioning your finger in a way so that it’s directly over the metal part of the fret. Although you can reach harmonics above the 12th fret, let’s focus on the 12th and below.
The natural harmonics on the D, G, and B strings can make G and D chords. If you rest your finger across all three strings on the 12th and 5th fret, you’ll be playing a G chord an octave apart. If you do the same thing on the 7th fret, you’ll get a D chord. You can also try to arpeggiate chords using only harmonics on one string. For the key of E the 12th fret is E, 7th is B, and 5th is E.
Using the knowledge of the available harmonics, play through chord progressions (simple ones like “Brown Eyed Girl” or a blues) and substitute fretted notes for natural harmonics.
At this point you may be thinking, “Well, that's all well and good, but what if I'm playing a song mostly involving F minor, Ab, Bb and Eb?” I'd say to put a capo on the first fret and the harmonics move accordingly. Unfortunately you're going to need a capo to play certain chords with natural harmonics, but it's worth it.
So when making a new song consider incorporating natural harmonics into the guitar part you're writing. Feel free to message me with any questions or book a lesson and we’ll work on it in person.
“Antonella’s Birthday” - Tommy Emmanuel
“Up In the Sky” and “Summer Song” - Joe Satriani
“Where Were You” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” - Jeff Beck